Orthotist

Orthotists care for people who need splints, braces and special footwear to help improve their walking, or to reduce pain. These devices, called orthoses, also help to correct nerve, muscle and bone deformities.

To work in the NHS, orthotists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

My name's Emma O'Neill. I'm an orthotist for the NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.

We basically diagnose and assess patient's functional loss, or whatever they're needing. It's the whole body, so it's diagnosing whether they've got pain, what's causing the pain, or if they need help walking, or whatever it is they need and then prescribing them something to wear to increase their function.

I think the most important skill to have for the job is communication. Usually, patients don't know what orthotics is. They've never heard of it, so it's really going through the whole treatment plan with them and communicating well with them.

[Also important are] problem-solving skills. Not one thing will always treat the patient, so something that works for someone will have to be altered for another person. It's quite like DIY, making things and just trying to turn something out of nothing. But, I also like the science side of it, so I ventured towards different health professions and trying to help people, but this was great because I got to use my manual side as well. So, then I found out about the course, that's what drew me to it.

I tend to like the out-patient clinics. There's a lot of problem solving and challenges with new patients. So, it's nice to have something different what walks into the clinic and problem-solve around that and what you want to do with the patient.

I know I make a difference with patients. They usually come in, in a bit of pain, or they've got weakness in say, they can't use a leg, so it's making them something to improve that and improve their activity levels or reduce their pain, or whatever we want to do. It's nice to see them from review to review, getting better all the time. I know I make that difference.


Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as an orthotist, useful subjects include:

  • Human Biology
  • Physics
  • Engineering Science
  • Maths
  • English

Doing a Foundation Apprenticeship in Engineering or Social Services and Healthcare in S5 or S6 could give you valuable work experience.

Find out more about apprenticeships at apprenticeships.scot.

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.

At college, you could do an HND in Engineering Systems.

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

In Scotland, University of Strathclyde offers a four-year pre-registration undergraduate programme in Prosthetics and Orthotics, approved by the HCPC.

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

The role

As an orthotist, you’d provide aids to correct problems or deformities of a patient’s nerves, muscles or bones.

You would assess your patient’s condition to design and fit orthoses to aid movement, stop deformities from progressing, or relieve discomfort.

Orthotists treat people from head to toe for a variety of problems including:

  • back pain
  • knee pain
  • sports-related injuries
  • foot pain
  • limb or spinal deformity

Using measurements, casts, digital imaging, computer-aided design and computer-aided modelling, you would design and fit surgical appliances such as:

  • braces
  • callipers
  • neck collars
  • splints

Working with doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists, you’ll provide advice to ensure the patient receives appropriate rehabilitation and aftercare support.

What you’ll do

Some of the typical tasks of an orthotist include:

  • assessing a patient's needs and taking measurements
  • fitting surgical devices
  • using the latest techniques and technologies to design orthoses
  • explaining designs to orthotic technicians so the final product can be produced
  • following up with patients to see how they are managing with their device
  • carrying out assessments to ensure the device is functioning properly
  • making adjustments or repairs if needed
  • supervising students and healthcare support workers

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • working in a team
  • communicating with people
  • problem-solving skills
  • persuading and motivating people
  • critical thinking skills

Who you’ll work with

Prosthetists work with other healthcare professionals including:

  • orthotic technicians
  • physiotherapists
  • occupational therapists
  • doctors
  • nurses
  • healthcare support workers

Working environment

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • private clinics

Useful information

To work as an orthotist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

There are over 1,000 registered prosthetists and orthotists in the UK and more than 65 orthotists working in the NHS in Scotland.

Learning and development

The professional body for prosthetists and orthotists in the UK is the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO). You can become a member once you’ve qualified as an orthotist.

During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with continuing professional development (CPD). The BAPO provides courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.

Career progression

With training and experience, you may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as:

  • sports injuries
  • working with children

You could also progress to senior and specialist orthotist roles. As head of an orthotics and prosthetics service, you would be responsible both for a team of staff and for managing a budget.

There are also teaching and research opportunities.